International Women’s Day: women in tech (IV)

As part of International Women’s Day 2023, SQLI has spoken to four inspirational digital leaders about the advice they might give their younger self, moving into the tech and digital landscape for the first time.

Here, in the fourth part of the series, Nicole Olbe, Managing Director Partnerships at Barclaycard Payments passes on her advice. Read Part One, here, Part Two, here and Part Three, here

Nicole Olbe, Managing Director Partnerships at Barclaycard Payments

A message to my younger self 

In the early stages of my career I didn’t encounter many women in senior roles in Payments. I’d often find myself being the only woman in the room and on reflection, there were some really tough days in the office. Of course, on other days you’d celebrate your differences and feel absolutely valued while surrounded by male allies, who were fantastic.

However, some days I’d feel the need to show up and be someone other than who I was. It was a case of ‘fake it, until you make it.’ I'd turn up to meetings in a power suit and high heels and almost overcompensate by being overly-assertive or bringing more of what I felt was a  “male energy” into the room to get heard. What I’ve learnt is that this is a dangerous game to play. Too many talented women are turning up and not being themselves. You start doubting whether you are good enough. Imposter syndrome kicks in. My advice here is embrace who you are!

Being you is your superpower 

I had some really great advice from a mentor once. He said, “be yourself because everybody else is taken.” And that stuck with me. Being you, that's your superpower. That's the thing that nobody else can be. Be true to yourself and build up the confidence to show up as yourself. The fact that I am a South African, middle-aged, white woman working in the UK - a mother and a payments specialist - that's important, that's my context and contribution. I should celebrate this and the fact that I am different to a lot of people I work with and can therefore bring a different perspective.

I've learned over time that having diverse teams, where everyone's feeling super comfortable in their own skin and where they bring themselves into the conversation, is important in terms of developing strategy and solving problems. Creating the space where everyone is contributing to that overall fabric is vital.

The digital industry is always evolving 

Whether you are male or female, the digital industry is an exciting place to be. The reason I've stayed in payments and on this digital journey, is because it reinvents itself every two or three years. It's constantly evolving, there is always something new and exciting to tackle and as a result, you’re always learning and growing professionally. Payments is something that unifies us all – we all need “stuff” and so there's a value exchange that happens, which is very often powered by digital payments. I think it's an industry that's going to keep evolving and one I’m really excited about being part of. The opportunities for anyone starting out are huge and it’s a creative space that more women are joining, which is really encouraging.

I’m really privileged to be on the EMEA Advisory board of Women in Payments. There are many similar, brilliant organisations to join as a woman in the digital sphere, where you can meet incredible people and feel inspired and elevated. Whether it's Women in Tech, Women in Sales, Women in Payments, I think of these as tribes, where people can go and get support, inspiration and amplification.

I have found that women tend not to want to go out and shout out about their achievements. These organisations are a great way for women to get more comfortable celebrating just how good they are and a way for younger women, just starting out, to see and meet female role models they can identify with.

Care about your career 

Another bit of great career advice I got early on was ‘no one cares about your career as much as you do.’ There's a danger that you could sit around waiting for someone else to recognise your talent, when the reality is everyone's busy with their own stuff. You need to have a plan. You need to focus on what's important to you. Building your tribe is crucial for this. Your tribe should be peers; sponsors; mentors and cheerleaders as well as people who will call you out and keep you true to yourself.

I’d also say that, if you are a leader, you should get comfortable with hiring people who are better than you. It can be a bit scary as you may feel that you need to be the subject matter expert. It’s a really important thing to do because they learn from you, you learn from them and having that two way exchange means that you will develop and stretch yourself, as well as your team. You don't always need to be the subject matter expert!

Listening is really important 

Finally, being an active listener is really important. As you get more senior, you can end up doing most of the talking, if you open meetings you are setting the tone. You can end up being in an echo chamber where everyone's just playing back to you what you've just said. As a leader, having the confidence to be quiet and let people talk is a great way to unlock the potential in the room.

This leads back to my earlier point about when I tried to be a little more aggressive in my early career. I have learnt there's strength in sometimes being the quieter person in the room, because when you do say something, it’s meaningful and people will sit up and listen.

Nicole Olbe biography: 

After starting her career journey in South Africa and working for some of the biggest payment businesses in Africa, Nicole moved to the UK at the age of 30, without a job lined up and just a 23kg bag in tow. 

The calculated risk has seen her live here for 15 years, get married and have two children - and become a respected female leader in the payments sphere, now Managing Director Partnerships at Barclaycard Payments. 

Nicole’s 20 years in payments, with roles encompassing numerous geographies, cultures and industries, has given her a unique perspective of the digital and payments industries.